Monday, December 12, 2016

Who Are You Calling a Fascist?

In today's superheated, thought-inhibited and fact-challenged political arena, we often think of people and ideas in terms of simplistic bumper stickers - "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin' Ted" and "Little Marco," "Stronger Together" and "Make America Great Again." Bumper stickers are what we employ in lieu of things like reason and thought, particularly when we either refuse to believe unpleasant facts or choose simply to ignore them.

One of the bumper sticker words frequently used to describe Donald Trump and his most fervent supporters is fascist. Trump supporters object to this as an example of the Reductio ad Hitlerum* logical fallacy; however, it can be a perfectly valid comparison when viewed in a historical context.

First, a bit of linguistic history: the words fascism and fascist come from the Latin word fasces, a bundle of rods around an axe that served as a symbol of authority for imperial Roman magistrates. It represented imperial strength (a bundle of rods is stronger than a single one) and their power to impose corporal and capital punishment -

I've been thinking about the idea of Donald Trump as a fascist in the historical context for a while, but this article by Michael Kinsley sums up the argument better than I could. Along with Mr Kinsley's article - which you should read carefully - consider a few of the many definitions of fascism:

From the Business Dictionary: “(A) Political ideology that imposes strict social and economical measures as a method of empowering the government and stripping citizens of rights. This authoritative system of government is usually headed by an absolute dictator who keeps citizens suppressed via acts of violence and strict laws that govern the people. The most noted form of Fascism was implemented under Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, who both stripped citizens of their rights and maintained strict regimes that resulted in the deaths of thousands of humans. Some of the defining characteristics of fascism are: (1) racism, (2) militarism, (3) dictatorship, and (4) destructive nationalistic policies."

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “(1) A political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. (2) a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”

From Wikipedia: “Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.”

One of the defining aspects of historical fascism is the merging of government and corporate economic power. Such a merging is obvious in the incoming Trump administration on many levels - for one, Mr. Trump's own enormous business holdings, which are far from transparent and from which he has thus far declined to view as potential conflicts of interest. Consider also the number of corporate titans he has nominated to Cabinet positions, with the argument that they are highly successful world-class businessmen who have run highly successful companies.

With all due respect to Mr. Trump**, the federal government is not a business venture. It requires leaders who can skillfully manage huge and complex bureaucracies, but it is not a money-making enterprise driven by a profit motive and a need to financially reward it's shareholders. Government at every level exists to serve the needs of its citizens - all of its citizens, not just big business and the wealthy. The citizens are the ultimate shareholders of the government, and they have a right to expect leaders who place the safety and economic well-being of the average American above the normal, ruthlessly hard-eyed business concerns of profit and loss. This is not to say that government at any level should be run without concern for the bottom line, but it does reflect what ought to be the fundamental principle of good government as understood by traditional conservatives: prudent management of the minimum resources required by the smallest government organization capable of providing the services demanded by the shareholders (in this case, the citizens).

Some will argue that active government support of business promotes economic growth, job creation, and increased tax revenue. I'm not sure that this has been proven out in practice, particularly the part about increased tax revenues. For instance, Mr. Trump has bragged about his success in preventing the Carrier Corporation from moving some jobs (the exact number is unclear) to Mexico ... but part of the agreement featured millions of dollars in tax advantages for the company. If Carrier isn't paying those taxes, who is?***

Beyond the immediate concerns of mixing corporate boardroom issues with governance and diplomacy, consider some of the other aspects of fascism listed in the Business Dictionary definition quoted above:

Racism. I personally believe that this has become a meaningless pejorative used to shut down legitimate discussion serious issues, particularly when used by those on the political left. This does not mean that there are not serious social issues in which race is a factor, but stifling discussion by loudly labeling a person as a racist rather than engaging in rational discussion aimed at changing their views does nothing more than cement already bad attitudes. While I don't believe that Donald Trump himself is a racist or white supremacist, it's clear that his campaign deliberately pushed buttons with racial overtones and interpretations, and his failure immediately and decisively to shut down his most radical and potentially violent supporters is a troubling analogy to the politics of the 1920s and 30s.

Militarism. While it's not militaristic per se, consider that Mr. Trump has nominated an almost unprecedented number of former general officers to high positions, including Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor. While they may be capable individuals, their nomination is concerning when viewed against the American tradition of civilian control of the military. By the way, considering that Mr Trump has described American generals as "embarrassing," and said they had been "reduced to rubble," he seems to be okay with appointing them to high government positions. He has also made very bellicose comments about many actual and potential enemies ... except Russia, which he seems to like.

Dictatorship. Remember that Mr Trump is the candidate who listed all the things he thought were wrong with America and then said "I alone can fix it." He claims to know more about ISIS than the military professionals who have been fighting it daily for years. He blithely ignores the conclusions of the Intelligence Community, even to the extent of not receiving daily intelligence update briefings. He has advocated limits on free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, and complains bitterly when he receives critical news coverage. From his lofty perch, he fires off crude Twitter attacks against individual Americans. While he never directly incited violence during the presidential campaign, his careless language arguably inspired others to commit acts of violence they believed were now acceptable. All this does not make him a dictator - but it makes him worth watching carefully.

Destructive Nationalistic Policies. While Americans have a right to expect that their president will put American interests first in any international negotiations, it's worth remembering that every other country wants to put its interests first in the same way. Negotiation is not conducted by threats and bluster, but by a search for an outcome that balances the legitimate needs of both parties. When Mr. Trump advocates tearing up or renegotiating existing trade treaties and slapping large tariffs on foreign goods, he tells other countries that he's not interested in negotiation, but in capitulation. When he advocates denying admission to the country to every member of a particular religion, he tells the world that America has turned its back on one of its most cherished freedoms - freedom of worship. Such policies are destructive both to America's prosperity and to its moral standing.

And so, yes, I believe Donald Trump is a classic fascist. I can only hope that better men and women than he wake up and recognize it before it's too late.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Also known as "Godwin's Law" - "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1." In other words, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler and the Nazis.

** And, sadly, that isn't much.

*** Hint - it's you.

† If you think this is a Reductio ad Hitlerum analogy, so be it.


Mariette said...

I appreciate your discourse on what fascism is. It's a word often bandied about.

Mike said...

Racism just falls into the 'not like us' category of which there are an infinite number.

Hey! Do I get a continuing education credit for reading this?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

There are some fascistic trends going around, unfortunately.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I'm disgusted with the idea of keeping people out because of religion. That goes against first principles.